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Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass

This weekend marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. For any Americans aged 30 and under reading this, I’ll wager that you were never exposed to Kristallnacht in any of your K-12 history classes.

Kristallnacht was a pogrom (a series of coordinated attacks) against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on November 9th and 10th in 1938. The event unfolded at the hands of Hitler’s “Brown Shirts” (think storm-troopers in brown shirts) along with non-Jewish civilians. The event was dubbed “Kristallnacht”, or Night of Broken Glass, because this hurricane of antisemitism resulted in the littering of the streets of the broken glass from the homes, stores, hospitals, and temples of Jewish people. In the process, 91 Jews were killed and another 30,000+  rounded up and sent off to death camps. Before anyone knew it at the time, Hitler’s solution to “The Jewish Problem” had begun with Kristallnacht.

The back-story about why The Nazi’s went on the rampage that night had to do with the murder of a German envoy in Paris named Ernst vom Rath. vom Rath was shot by a Jewish teenager named Herschel Grynszpa, two days prior, in what has been believed to be the spark which lit the fuse to the start of the violence in Germany and Austria. vom Rath eventually died of his wounds to the shoulder and stomach, and upon that announcement, the “Pogroms” went into action.

A new book is challenging the idea that vom Rath’s death was unavoidable. The Raw Story has an article about German investigative journalist Armin Fuhrer (such an unfortunate last name) and his new book titled “Herschel – The Assassination by Herschel Grynszpan on the 7th of November 1938 and the Beginning of the Holocaust.”  From the article:

Fuhrer argues the envoy could have survived gunshot wounds to his shoulder and stomach if Nazi leaders had not decided to make a martyr of him. “Hitler sent his personal doctor, Karl Brandt, to Paris… so he would consciously let Ernst vom Rath die, and not give him the medical help he needed,” Fuhrer said. Fuhrer’s book reveals vom Rath had acute gastrointestinal tuberculosis at the time of his death, a detail Nazi officials didn’t make public so as not to weaken the “causal connection” between Grynszpan’s shooting and the official’s death, Fuhrer wrote.

For those of us fascinated with all things from the World War II era, I find this to be a very intriguing premise, one that definitely fits nicely with the formulations in my head about how I perceive the events of the times. And I find the argument, that the history of the vom Rath killing is based largely on Nazi accounts from the time and therefore tainted, to be very compelling and certainly worth further investigation and research.

But then again, my training in skeptical thought an analysis reminds me that this is exactly how I am supposed to feel about this kind of revelation. I can’t allow my feelings to get in the way of facts, data, logic, and evidence. It is prudent to hesitate and, first, read the book, and second, see what the opposing opinions are saying about Fuhrer’s assessments. I’ll then be in a much better position to come to a reckoning which will either enhance my preconceptions and understandings, or take into account some new evidence which could require a slight re-calibration of my internal equations. 

Either way, I love reading about the latest historical controversies from the World War II era, especially in trying to keep up with the likes of the Holocaust Deniers and other revisionist historians whom have a penchant for twisting facts and evidence as a means to veil (albeit unsuccessfully) their hatred of Jewish people.











Better The Devil, You Know

A few days ago, YouGov.com released results of a survey in which they had recently asked 1000 US adults:

Do you personally believe in the existence of the Devil or not?

57% of people answered yes.

28% answered no.

15% don’t know

Aside form the fact that the question was not well crafted (read it carefully … technically, the question is asking if you believe in both choices they pose), we get the idea of what they are really asking.

Here is a question they ask which is less ambiguous: 

How often do you think people are possessed by the devil?

only 11% said never

Strange that this number isn’t closer to the 28% of people who answered ‘negative’ to the existence of a devil. But the wording of poll questions matter. Perhaps the discrepancy lies in the subtle (yet distinct) differences in how each question was constructed.

The takeaway here (besides the sad fact that so many people within my American culture accept fantasy as reality) is that when it comes to polls, a good skeptic will always remember …


… wait for it …


 … the devil is in the details. 



Yes, True Scotsman

SGU listener Mark Gordon from Scotland has been keeping the SGU, and many others, updated on some very disturbing happenings in his home country.

Earlier this week, Mark was one of several outspoken critics whom went the Scottish Parliament week to debate religion in Scottish schools. Parents of students in Scotland reserve the right to withdraw their child from activities such as church services or religious assemblies.

Many of the parents are unaware of this right, and in some cases, the teachers are also unaware. As Mark has told us and others, about 20% of the parents are aware of opt-out rights.

When pupils do opt out, they alternative activities afforded to them are often meaningless or designed to just kill time, such as having students (such as Mark’s daughter) draw pictures while a school secretary watches over them. This seems to be in direct violation of the law, which reads:

 ‘… in no circumstances should a child be disadvantaged as a result of withdrawing from religious observance’ and should be given a ‘suitable worthwhile alternative activity.’

The Scottish Secular Society have petitioned for an amendment to the law, so it become an OPT-IN choice, rather than the current election to opt-out. On September 3rd, Mark and others in the organization presented the parliament with the petition, which you can read in its entirety here. Churches and religious groups are defending the laws current verbiage, which comes as absolutely no surprise. 

Which (and here is the disturbing part) allows for groups like THESE CREATIONIST GROUPS FROM AMERICA to make presentations at public schools, and if you don’t choose the opt-out so your child can go draw in the corner of the front office, then your child will be taking part of this religious assembly.  In addition, they will be bringing home books which trash evolution, and promote the anti-science of creationism.

As reported by The Daily Record earlier today …

The creationist books, defended by head teacher Sandra MacKenzie, denounce the theory of evolution and warn pupils that, without God, they risk being murdered in a harmful, disgusting world.

And here is one of many “gems” from The Church of Christ:

“We believe the teachings of the Bible, which tell us evolution is a myth. The Bible also states homosexuality is a sin.”

Here are more links to additional reports about this news out of Scotland. We are really pleased that Mark Gordon is one of the front-line fighters in this effort, and he promises to keep us updates as events unfold on Scotland’s latest battlefield. 


Attention iTunes … Creationism is Not Science!

Sam, an SGU listener, brought this to our attention the other day (thank you, Sam.)

A new podcast has hit the iTunes shelves. It is called Scripture on Creation.

And of course, it is correctly categorized under the ‘Religion and Spirituality’ category, isn’t it?  


It is in iTunes ‘Science and Medicine’ category.

Strange. Could this possibly be an actual podcast about science, and the title is just terribly misleading? Well, over at the Scripture on Creation website, under their What We Believe section, the following is written:

“The Bible is not intended by God to be a science textbook, but everything it does say about the material world is accurate. With the proper perspective, we will discover that biblical statements present no necessary contradictions to anything scientists have been able to demonstrate.”

Browsing around their website for a few minutes, it does not take long to realize these are unapologetic creationists, featuring interviews with “doctors” from ‘Answers in Genesis’ and ‘The Discovery Institute’ , and promoting movies such as “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, which they “highly recommend” to their audience. This show deserves to be categorized as a science podcast about as much as The Adam Corolla Show does. 

I gave up long ago trying to figure out how Apple manages iTunes from both operational and customer relations standpoints. I recall years ago jumping through hoops just trying to get a reply from a person … any person with a name  … inside the iTunes firewall (to no avail, I became frustrated and gave up.)

Regardless of how they make their decisions to categorize podcasts, this is either a terrible oversight (at best) or a big-time failure in allowing a podcast which promotes religion and the bible while simultaneously trashing evolution, into the Sci and Med category. Unfortunately, iTunes has repeatedly shown failures of judgement by allowing paranormal podcasts to be housed in this category since its inception – a mistake they (apparently) have no interest in correcting. 

However, we have not bemoaned this issue on the SGU, because we understand the society-wide confusion which exists when trying to find the demarcations between actual science and pseudoscience. Our culture has done a thorough job of blurring those lines.

But you might think  … a giant in the tech industry would have a natural affinity and appreciation of what qualifies as science. Not so! Apple is just as likely to promote nonsense as any other organization you can imagine, and all the overpriced consumer technology in the world won’t make the decision-makers over at iTunes wake up and take notice.

ADDENDUM:  If you would like to express your dissatisfaction with the categorization of  ‘Scripture on Creation’, go to the podcast in iTunes and click on “Report a Concern” on the left side of the page, then select ”Incorrect Category” from the list of topic headings for your message.

NOTE: I had previously, unintentionally besmirched Mugglecast instead of The Adam Corolla Show, which was not a great analogy and dutifully corrected by Emerson, thank you sir!  Oh, and no offense, Adam, I’m just making a point of contrast.

Remembering Perry DeAngelis Today

As far as I am concerned, there is only one event that has happened on this date in skeptical history. On August 19, 2007, Perry DeAngelis succumbed to his decade-long struggle with Scleroderma, an auto-immune disease with no known cause and no known cure.

The prognosis for those diagnosed with scleroderma varies, where some people succumb in as little as 5 years, others can live 50 years past diagnosis. Perry got about 10 years, some of them spent in varying degrees of pain and discomfort. Although he gave little public insight as to just how bad things got for him in the last year of his life, those of us closest to him knew, as visits to see him in the hospital became more frequent than days visiting with him at home.

Perry DeAngelis, along with Steven Novella and Bob Novella, made up the executive triumvirate which officially founded the Connecticut Skeptical Society (CSS) on January 1, 1996.  Back in the day before the modern internet (yes, kids, there was such a time), there was one “official” source of skeptical news and information; CSICOP and their magazine, Skeptical Inquirer. Those familiar with SI in those days know that at the back of the magazine would appear the list of local skeptic groups around the country (and the world, for that matter.) One night sometime in late 1995, Perry was over Steve’s condo, casually flipping through a copy of SI. He was reading through the list of local groups, and commented to Steve: “There’s no local skeptics group in Connecticut. We should start one.”

This was our “Big Bang”, as far as The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is measured. I am terribly biased when looking back at this, but I can’t find a scenario where the SGU would be today without Perry’s initiative and vision.

A few days after the CSS was officially formed, I was invited to join the organization as a member (I still have my original membership card.) Shortly afterwards, I became an active volunteer and consultant for CSS, once I finally figured out what skepticism was all about, thanks to Perry’s instruction one night over (what else) a board game. And just like that, my professional skeptical career began in earnest. Without the guidance and friendship of Perry, I am not sure I would have ever found skepticism on my own. I certainly can’t imagine having found it in a more gratifying way … alongside some of my best friends.

Lately I’ve been listening to old episodes of the SGU, reading through some old emails and chats between the two of us, and reading prior blog posts related to Perry here in The Rogues Gallery. One blog post in particular from another close deceased friend, Mike Lacelle (whom shared a special bond with Perry as each of them fought deathly illnesses together) deserves reading again.

Mike was just one of hundreds of thousands of people who were, and continue to be, influenced by the singular wit and wisdom “that is or was or ever will be” Perry DeAngelis.